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March 07, 2014
Shiftwork safety tips for National Sleep Awareness Week
By Emily Scace, Senior Editor, Safety

Clocks will jump forward an hour this Sunday, March 9, as the United States shifts to Daylight Savings Time. While the extra daylight during waking hours is a welcome change at the end of winter, it’s probably safe to say that most people dread the loss of an hour’s worth of sleep and the subsequent body clock disruption.

But what about workers whose body clocks are constantly disrupted due to irregular work schedules? Drowsiness on the job can be a major safety issue, particularly in safety-critical positions that involve operating machinery, driving, or other tasks requiring alertness. And the reduced concentration, decreased motivation, and slower reaction times that often accompany shift work add up to both a potential loss of productivity and an increased risk of accidents and injuries during nontraditional working hours.

In fact, the National Sleep Foundation’s (NSF) 2012 Sleep in America poll, which focused on transportation workers, found that about one-fourth of train operators and pilots admitted that sleepiness affected their job performance at least once a week, as did about one in six non-transportation workers.

8 tips for safer shiftwork

In honor of the NSF’s National Sleep Awareness Week, which runs from March 2-9, 2014, here are eight safety tips to make sure “third shift” doesn’t translate to “three times the accidents:”

  1. Allow employees to take scheduled breaks to walk around and do some light stretches to keep energy levels high.
  2. Make sure workers take extra safety precautions while working an irregular shift to account for a possible lack of alertness.
  3. Workers should avoid operating heavy machinery, driving, or handling hazardous materials if they become drowsy and notify a supervisor if they feel they aren’t sufficiently alert to perform a task safely.
  4. Those who supervise shift workers should try to assign a variety of tasks to help workers remain alert and attentive.
  5. Make sure the workplace is well-lit, heated or cooled to a comfortable temperature, and properly ventilated.
  6. Caffeine can increase alertness temporarily, but it’s not a substitute for sleep. Make sure workers understand this and aren’t relying solely on coffee to keep going.
  7. Encourage employees to eat a nutritious, balanced diet and exercise regularly. To make this easier for workers whose schedules can make healthy living difficult, employers might try providing healthy snacks and a space for employees to exercise during breaks.
  8. Outside of work, employees should set a sleeping schedule and adhere to it to minimize disruptions to their circadian rhythms.

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